EPA failed to prove that former Administrator Scott Pruitt faced threats that justified pouring $3.5 million into round-the-clock security for him, the agency’s internal watchdog said on Tuesday.
The number of agents in Pruitt’s security detail more than tripled while the agency’s costs doubled, according to the report, but it stopped short of identifying any unlawful activity by Pruitt, who left the agency in July under a cloud of scandal.
Pruitt received an unprecedented level of security once he joined EPA, expanding the door-to-door protection previous administrators had received to 24/7 coverage, even inside the agency’s Washington headquarters. Agency officials had contended that a spike in the number of threats against Pruitt and his family, as well as protesters at his occasional public appearances, justified the extra protection.
But the Office of Inspector General report said the agency does not even have an approved process in place to determine when to increase an administrator’s security, and the decision was made by Pruitt’s office.
“Failure to properly justify the level of protective services provided to the Administrator has allowed costs to increase from $1.6 million to $3.5 million in just 11 months,” the report concluded.
The report highlights Pruitt’s oftentimes brash management style at the agency he had sued more than a dozen times during his prior tenure as Oklahoma’s attorney general. Even as conservatives praised his deregulatory agenda, his time atop the agency was derailed by several scandals.
OIG is also conducting probes into Pruitt’s extensive first-class travel, his $50-a-night condo rental from a lobbyist with business before EPA, large raises granted to top aides through a statutory loophole, EPA’s use of a special hiring authority to bring on political staffers, his construction of a $43,000 secure phone booth and the nature of a meeting with a coal mining group.
Tuesday’s report said EPA officials had relied on an August 2017 memo written by an OIG official that summarized threats made against Pruitt and his family, former administrator Gina McCarthy and other EPA employees. However, the memo was not a formal threat assessment because it “only consisted of statistical data of threats received by the OIG,” which investigates all threats made against the administrator, the OIG report concluded.
The memo “did not assess the potential danger presented by any of these threats,” the OIG said, adding that it was prepared nearly six months after the decision to implement 24/7 protection for Pruitt.
EPA was supposed to conduct a cost analysis and threat assessment within two weeks of Pruitt’s arrival in February 2017 to determine whether or not to continue the round-the-clock protection his office had requested. The OIG report said it found evidence of a cost analysis, but no threat assessment.
“We have not received any documented evidence or justification supporting the decision to continue to provide 24/7 protective services,” the OIG report says.
In a statement to POLITICO, EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said the agency “disagrees with the OIG’s characterization of how a level of protective services is determined.”
Dangerous people often do not make threats that would show up in a threat analysis, he said, citing recent attacks that occurred without warning, such as the 2017 shooting at the Republican congressional baseball practice and the 2011 attack on then-Rep. Gabby Giffords.
“A threat analysis cannot be the sole source of information used to determine if protective services are provided or the level of protection,” Abboud said.
The OIG disagreed with EPA and said it considers its recommendations to improve EPA’s process to be “unresolved.” The threat analysis “should be used to document and justify the level of protective services to be provided,” the report said. It also faulted EPA’s proposed fixes for not requiring documentation about the decisions on the level of protection.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said the report confirmed their suspicions about Pruitt’s spending.
“Mr. Pruitt’s excessive, 24/7 security detail and the costs it incurred while Pruitt traveled the world first-class on the taxpayers’ dime was not properly justified and was not based on a security threat analysis on risks to Pruitt,” Carper said in a statement. “This is simply unacceptable.”
The inspector general also found the agency improperly approved more than $100,000 in overtime costs related to security between January 2016 and March 2017 — prior to Pruitt’s arrival.
Pruitt also drew criticism for flying exclusively in first class, both because his predecessors usually flew coach and because it came as he sought to slash his agency’s budget and workforce. EPA against said a string of incidents — such as an individual who reportedly approached him in Atlanta’s airport shouting, “Scott Pruitt, you’re f—ing up the environment” — prompted his security team to recommend he travel in first class.
Pruitt also faced reports that he requested his security team use his vehicle’s lights and sirens to travel around the city, and that he used guards to pick up dry cleaning and drive him around Washington to hunt for his favorite lotion.
Andrew Wheeler, Pruitt’s deputy who is now acting administrator, canceled the 24/7 protection a week after Pruitt left, the OIG report says. Wheeler will be provided with “portal-to-portal” protection.
The inspector general report also said it could not determine whether the administrator’s security team has statutory law enforcement authority — a status that allows agents to make arrests, conduct investigations and carry firearms. The agency now asserts it has that authority in a June 29 legal opinion from Associate General Counsel Wendy Blake in response to the draft report.
Outside of EPA, other Pruitt investigations remain underway.
House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) opened his own probe, which has involved meeting with top Pruitt aides for transcribed interviews. The White House and Office of Management and Budget also said they were conducting their own inquiries.
None of those investigations has produced any public reports or results, though a House Democratic aide to the Oversight Committee vowed its probe would continue. A spokeswoman for committee Republicans did not respond to request for comment.
“Although Mr. Pruitt is no longer at the agency, we continue to continue to investigate his wasteful use of taxpayer money and other mismanagement issues that plagued the EPA while Mr. Pruitt served the American people as Administrator,” the Democratic aide said.
Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office is still looking into Pruitt’s decision to remove several members of EPA’s scientific advisory committees who received research grant money from the agency. And the Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency, is investigating allegations that Pruitt retaliated against several career and one political staffer who questioned his spending and activities.
Several outside probes have concluded, including one GAO investigation that said that Pruitt’s private phone booth violated spending laws, although EPA disputes that conclusion.
However, other closed investigations found no wrongdoing.
GAO concluded that Pruitt’s appearance in a cattle industry group’s video promoting repeal of a water regulation did not violate anti-lobbying laws. The OSCdismissed complaints that Pruitt’s frequent travel to Oklahoma was politically motivated after finding “no evidence that Mr. Pruitt used government resources to travel to Oklahoma to support a future candidacy for state office.”
And the Oklahoma Bar Association in July ended its investigation related to Pruitt’s statement to Congress that he did not use personal email to conduct business as Oklahoma attorney general.